Vixen Chat: ASH On Singing Backup For Janelle Monáe And Creating 'The Perfect EP'
ASH's road to stardom has been everything but boring. After bagging a bachelor's degree in Theater from Atlanta’s prestigious Spelman College, the brown-eyed beauty headed to the nation’s capital for a gig in homeland security. After bouncing across the country from D.C. to L.A. to ATL, ASH landed her first break in the limelight as one of Janelle Monáe’s backup singers.
“Singing with Janelle was so much fun,” she told VIBE Vixen. “If you look at any background vocalist, they kind of just stand behind the mic, doing their part by moving side to side, but man, with Janelle, (Laughs) we have to dance, split and sing. It was really fun because it pushed me harder than I think I would have ever been pushed, singing with anyone else. I become stronger and definitely a better performer, a better woman and just a lot more energetic.“
Now, the Cleveland native is putting what she learned from Janelle into practice as she strives to cement her own spot in the music industry with her debut project The Perfect EP.
VIBE Vixen: When did you first realize you wanted to do music?
ASH: I was about 12 when it hit me that [music] was something a little more serious than just singing around the house but my mom was not really on board with me pursuing anything at that age outside of school.
Who are some of your musical inspirations?
Chaka Khan is definitely my favorite female vocalist. She is a legend. Her voice is one of a kind. Her beauty, her passion, her ability to get up there and just sing her heart out with class and sexiness is something that I’ve always admired. I would also say Steve Perry from Journey. As a songwriter with such a big voice, he still has really emotional lyrics. I feel like I could always identify with those parts of him. And I love Babyface. I always feel he’s like a long lost uncle because he is an Aries like me. I feel like he understands love and how to write music in a way that can penetrate a listener.
Before you started singing, you had a job in public service on Capitol Hill.
When I graduated from college, I started looking for jobs; so I applied to homeland security and went through that whole process of trying to get hired and get into a class. So I moved to Washington, D.C. and I was networking on Capitol Hill, [while] babysitting. After a few months of that, I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I saved up some money and moved to L.A. for a little bit just to regroup, figure out my plan and how I was going to strategically pursue this career in music.
Was it a hard transition?
I didn’t plan on moving to L.A. for a long time. I had some really good mentors who live out there and so I saved up about $10,000—enough to have a rental car when I needed it, to eat and have money in the bank for just a couple of months. But yeah, it was scary because I did leave the stability of working in D.C. I was scared, but I wasn’t happy. I did my part by saving and making sure that I had a cushion for myself. It was scary because it was new but it wasn’t scary enough for me to think twice about it.
How did you start singing with Janelle Monáe?
I moved back to Atlanta from L.A. I decided Atlanta was the best bet for me because the cost of living is way better than D.C., L.A. or New York, but it still has a very musical background. You can still network. I was singing, doing little things here and there, and I had some friends who have auditioned for really big artists, and one of my friends was like, ‘Hey, Janelle is looking for some singers. You should totally go out for that position.’
A couple of months went by and I didn’t hear anything so I didn’t think much of it I was like ‘Oh, whatever I probably didn’t get it. There are so many singers out here.' I was actually in a weird space because I was like, ‘I wonder if I could move back to D.C. and kind of jump back into what I was doing before.’ Something told me, ‘No, this is what you’re supposed to do.’ So I literally jumped in the shower and was praying. My phone rang, but I missed the phone call. So then I got out the shower and saw a number that I did not recognize. When I checked my voicemail, it was her music director saying that they had heard a lot about me and that I was highly recommended. They were interested in knowing if I would give them a call back and maybe sing background for Janelle. So, of course, I was like ‘Absolutely.’
ALSO SEE: Dance Along To ASH’s ‘Anyway’ Video
When did you decide that you wanted to make that transition from backup singer to solo artist?
I knew years ago that I wanted to be a soloist, but there is a process to that. Singing with Janelle Monáe definitely gave me a lot more insight and understanding on what it means to be a performer and an artist. But what put the pressure on me was my father being terminally ill. One thing that he kept asking me was, ‘When are you going to put your own record out? I’m always recording videos of you performing with Janelle and I love her but I want you to put out something.' And so it hit me. I started gaining some inspiration, little by little. I would go home and write in my journal and over time, I pretty much put the record together. I was able to let my dad hear it and he loved it.
Switching gears a bit, what are some beauty products you can’t live without?
I definitely have to have a nice, black, wide-rimmed fedora hat. I need a spray water bottle for my hair to put my clips in. I’m addicted to mascara, so I definitely have to have that. And there is this eyeliner from MAC called Teddy that I’m addicted to. I have brown eyes, and [Teddy’s] a brown liner. It just kind of gives ‘hot’ without being over-the-top.
How would you describe your style?
I almost want to say it’s like the urban girl next door. I’m really chill. I love sneakers. I love flannels. I like sexiness, but not too much. I could just throw on some [Nike] dunks or a crazy shoe or something funky and different, but just simple.
Lastly, what inspires your music?
Well, really, just life. My honest personality has always been to respond to anything with love, and trying to put myself in people’s shoes from a foundation of love. If someone does me wrong or even with the fact that I was dealing with my father, who was my best friend, dying, how could I respond to these hurt feelings with love and in love? I wanted this EP to be very reflective of me and be very honest. I like to dance, I love to perform but at the same time while being pop, I still wanted to be honest and kind of give you soul through my lyrics. Hopefully there is a little bit of something for everybody to like on it.